Gotta Watch ‘Em All!: A Review of Pokémon's 'Detective Pikachu'
I’m a Pokémon Dad! My three sons were born in 1991, 1994, and 1999; so, when the Pokémon craze broke in 1996, we were well poised to be “victimized,” and be part of the madness. Ash Ketchum and Pikachu, the first generation color-coded video games, the trading cards, the stuffed toys and collectibles, the TV series and the animated films––those were years of cheering on my boys, while silently cursing creator Satoshi Tajiri, Nintendo, and the Gotta Catch ‘Em All battle cry. You had the heart and souls of my boys, and my open wallet was a given. So coming on the heels of 2016's worldwide mania generated by the augmented reality game, Pokémon Go, Pokémon Detective Pikachu looks like it’ll be a double dose of success: a welcome nostalgia trip for those who were young children in the 1990s, and of wondrous appeal for the young kids of today, who relished the AR game three years ago.
A joint venture of Warner Bros., Legendary Entertainment, The Pokémon Company, and Toho Co. Ltd., the live-action/animated film directed by Rob Letterman (who also co-wrote the screenplay) is smartly calibrated to appeal to the uninitiated as well––with a fresh storyline that doesn’t require prior exposure to the Pokémon Universe, other than knowing that the Pokémon can’t be understood by humans, except for the uttering of their names. A canny move, given that even before the film opened, the announcement was made that a second installment had been given the green light.
Rather than presume that all the moviegoers will be rabid Pokémon fans, the film starts off with a main character who’s completely new: Tim (Justice Smith) is a young man who rejects looking for his Pokémon partner, and having lost his mother at a young age, now gets the news that his detective father is missing and presumed dead, when a mysterious accident occurs near a top secret facility (the film’s prologue). An intern reporter, Lucy (Kathryn Newton), shows up accompanied by her Pokémon partner, Psyduck. But the real kickstarter of this film, and the one that gets the audience cheering and sighing in anticipation, is when the Pokémon detective-partner of Tim’s father makes his appearance––and no prize for guessing this is Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds).
This was casting heaven, as the film now becomes a buddy film, with Tim and Pikachu providing the chemistry and sparkle that cover up the weak plot points and illogical decision-making. It’s fun of the highest order as Reynolds gives us a mouth-soaped version of Deadpool, full of retorts, wisecracks and digressions, that animate the film beyond any CGI-effect. Tim is basically playing straight-man to Pikachu’s constant chatter and high jinks; and we gladly sign up for the ride.
Adding to the charm of the film is how they’ve turned Ryme City into a world where humans and Pokémon live side-by-side. The facet of humans having to “collect, train, and battle” Pokémon is downplayed as Ryme City has evolved, and this gives the producers a wonderful and broad canvas to play with––of tremendous fan service, as they pack scenes will all kinds of Pokémon engaged in everyday city life. Rather than utilizing humans as the main perspective, a unique world-building takes place, with humans and pocket monsters interacting, and a merging of perspective is achieved; and it augurs well for the future installments of this new live-action/animated film franchise, as this is the first time it’s been done in this manner.
Pokémon is recognized as the highest grossing media franchise of all-time, given the multiple layers of how the franchise is “sold.” As a video game, it’s ranked #2, with Super Mario still ahead. If the Pokémon films of the past were more about anime and full animation, this initial live-action/animated film is a step in the right direction for further extending the life of the franchise. It may be more silly fun than anything else, but it’s done well, with the right light touch, honoring the franchise’s provenance, while providing a “fresh coat of paint.” And Ryan Reynolds is the absolute charmer!
Photos from Warner Bros. and Legendary